When three suitors try to woo a single, fifty-something mother, there isn't exactly love in the air. It's more like disaster and comedy. Circa 21's latest show, Getting Momma Married, is a humorous, behind-the-scenes look at one woman's attempts to find love again.

Ninja-style nuns, two sets of twins separated at birth, woeful lovers, men vaguely resembling Elvis, and a society divided by religious differences. These and more are part of the annual Shakespeare festival at Riverside outdoor theatre in Iowa City, with The Comedy of Errors and Romeo & Juliet on stage in repertory through July 7.

Richmond Hill Barn Theatre in Geneseo is like something from an actor's dream. With "theatre-in-the-round" seating, high ceilings for easy lighting capability, entryways from four sides, and an intimate acting space, one would think any play could succeed with these standards. Even a weak performance can be positively impacted by quality set pieces and a connection with audience members.

In the course of 20 minutes, more than 150 audience members met a principal with a fetish for riding crops and black leather, a "chalk-dust"-using English teacher, and a Latin instructor with bad hygiene. Then the secretary was murdered and dinner was casually served.

Compared to Chicago or even to Iowa City, the Quad Cities' contemporary-theatre base is practically nonexistent. But that could change with the help of one of the area's newest drama groups. With only two staged plays under its belt, the New Ground Theatre Company is already living up to its name.

It's not often that a main character dies more than five times during the course of a story. Or that a young man proposes to an 80-year-old woman. But Harold & Maude at Playcrafters Barn Theatre combines this unusual story with exceptional acting and achieves two hours of genuine laughter, and an appreciation for life and art. Colin Higgins' play is a lighthearted piece in which the lead characters come to terms with death and love.

The three sisters who are the central characters of Shelaugh Stephenson's The Memory of Water at first appear to having nothing in common except their family ties. The caustic dialogue reveals unresolved conflicts that go back to childhood and the different roles each woman has pursued in life and love. But the dialogue also contains much humor and insight that finally leads to acceptance.

Spinning into Butter, Riverside Theatre's third production in its 21st season, is a sometimes-humorous look at very serious subjects: political correctness and racial politics in the new millennium. The work and the production have local roots. The play was written by Rebecca Gilman, who has an MFA from the University of Iowa and is an acquaintance of Ron Clark and Jody Hovland, co-artistic directors at Riverside. (Time magazine hailed Gilman as "an important new theatrical voice.") And director Bruce Levitt is a former University of Iowa faculty member and was director of the MFA. actor-training program at the school from 1977 to 1980.

Riverside Theatre in Iowa City is one of only a handful of regional theatres fortunate enough to gain the rights to present I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change so early in its history. The musical comedy - dubbed "Seinfeld set to music" - is still running in New York at the WestSide Theatre and is also in Boston, and it hasn't begun to tour nationally. But it's at the Riverside Theatre through September 30.

Where can audiences see the World Wrestling Federation on stage in a Shakespeare comedy? And where can young lovers be serenaded by frogs as dusk settles over the park? The answer is Lower City Park in Iowa City, where Riverside Theatre presents a very modern interpretation of Shakespeare's As You Like It. Directed with wit and high energy by Mark Hunter, the comedy about love and family and all the complications one can imagine is distinguished by a rollicking soundtrack, youthful, exuberant performers, and hip-hop choreography.

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